Two years ago, if you’d have told me my five favorite albums of the year included soulful R&B, conceptual West Coast hip hop, Australian psych rock, Australian alt-rock-pop from an opera-trained vocalist and Bruce Springsteen – well, I’d have believed 20% of it.
Thus was the year of music in 2012, where my sonic tastes diverged and diversified, and it’s leading me into 2013 with excitedly open ears. To celebrate, I’ll be using the gift of Spotify and listening to as many 2013 albums as possible. I’ll post a paragraph or so with a score from each release every Friday, and at the end of the year, we’ll see who’s standing tall.
It’s always nice to get by with a little help from your friends, though, and Dan Kaplan and Dan Lyons – both from Monday’s year-in-music podcast – will be joining here and there with their brief thoughts as well, if they so see fit.
2013 should make for quite a bit of fun. In terms of known entities, I’m most excited for a new Black Keys release, not too long after El Camino, which is sure to be one of the best rock records of the decade. I’m also getting pumped up for some new U2, just about 24 hours after drummer Larry Mullen, Jr. claimed the band may have two new records upcoming in the future. And I’m dreaming of a new Queens of the Stone Age record, six years after Era Vulgaris. I’d also say I’m anticipating Dr. Dre’s Detox, but even Christopher Nolan couldn’t accommodate that reality…
Anyway, onward to some new releases of the past two weeks, along with some thoughts, from myself and dos Dans:
Hollywood Undead – Notes From The Underground
Kevin Brown: Largely generic and silly head-banging nonsense from rap-rockers without much of an expansive vocabulary – some anthemic moments, but not much to recommend overall. “Pigskin” is a particular lowlight, starting with the lyrics “I’m so icy, like ice cream”, with a second lyric from an Eminem wannabe and featuring a chorus with “HUT 1! HUT 2! HUT 3! GO!” An early candidate for worst song of the year, with “Up In Smoke” close behind. The whole noisy affair gets quite boring rather quickly. I doubt there’ll be too many less-sophisticated albums than this in 2013 – and there are 357 days to go.
Dan Lyons: After some of the truly awful albums that I listened to in 2012, it takes a lot to make me take special note of bad music. This makes Hollywood Undead’s Notes from the Underground, the first new album that I allowed to desecrate my ear canals this calendar year, really remarkable. At its absolute best, “Notes” sounds like a bad Linkin Park cover band trying to break into the world of original music.
However, “Notes” isn’t at its best very often. Nothing about the music is noteworthy, the lyrics are occasionally sophomoric but more commonly absolute nonsensical garbage, and the blend of rap and hard rock which was so popular around the time I was in middle school is way past its expiration date. I can’t recommend any songs on here, although the lowlight of the album, “Pigskin”, may be worth a listen for those who enjoy the truly bizarre and terrible. It sounds like the band was given a slot on the Madden soundtrack, celebrated, and then immediately realized that it knew nothing about football and quickly pulled a bunch of buzzwords off of a Wikipedia article.
Dan Kaplan: I will choose not to comment on this new release, which was too disappointing to merit a response.
Grade: F- (If there was such a thing as a G, I’d give it that.)
Dropkick Murphys – Signed and Sealed in Blood
Brown: The Celtic punk rockers start strong and fade a bit in the middle before picking the album up again toward the end. This is purely an attempt to write as many catchy punk songs as possible, which works in spades. The Murphys are clearly having a great time, but their sound is basically the same on every song, and the final results will wear on you by the midway point of the album. Listen to a couple of songs if you want (“The Boys Are Back”, “Out On The Town”, but good luck distinguishing an entire album’s worth of tracks.
Lyons: I’m a pretty big fan of the Murphys, but was a bit nonplussed by Signed and Sealed in Blood. Very few songs on the album truly stand out; its a fairly uniform collection of the normal Celtic-inspired punk rock that they are known for. Sure, there’s a fun holiday-romp (“The Season’s Upon Us”), and a few other songs that deviate a bit, but I like the Murphys when they really stretch out of their comfort zone. Past songs like “Dirty Glass” and their rendition of “The Green Fields of France” come to mind in that respect. This isn’t a bad effort from the boys from Boston, but it pales in comparison to some of their earlier work.
Kaplan: I also do not find this worthy of a response.
Black Veil Brides – Wretched and Divine: The Story of the Wild Ones
Brown: If you like your Avenged Sevenfold warmed-over and not nearly as good, try Black Veil Brides on for size! Wretched and Divine: The Story of the Wild Ones is a concept album with a boring concept – something about fighting and rebels and warriors and I don’t know, but this all sounds like a deleted Game of Thrones plot line. There are a couple of decent tracks on here (“Lost It All”, “In The End”), but you’ll have lost interest long before then.
Kaplan: This album was a bit of a surprise for me in that I didn’t totally hate it, even though perhaps I should have. I was expecting an album with zero redeeming qualities, which frankly, isn’t what we got. While I question the appropriateness of a bunch of contemporary glam metal clowns putting out a concept album (that kind of thing is WAY too high-brow for them, let’s be honest), there were moments on Wretched and Divine that I did enjoy–“New Years Day,” “Devil’s Choir,” and the title track chief among them. The band has a tendency to stick to its formula a bit too much, which is disappointing, but in general this thing was far from a total loss.
Yo La Tengo – Fade
Brown: Every musical critic in the world has likely fawned over Yo La Tengo at one point or another. Call me crazy, then, but I don’t have any more than a minimal interest in the band after listening to Fade. There’s not a bad song on the album, but there’s not a particularly standout one, either – excepting, perhaps, opener “Ohm” and closer “Before We Run”. Ira Kaplan’s “vocals”, if you want to call them that, are unimaginative and barely audible over the melodies, and I enjoy actually hearing what the singer says. The lyrics show some clever simplicity, but there’s not a single moment that wowed me in the 45-minute affair. Melodically, Fade’s good, but I don’t have much of a desire to ever listen to it again.
Kaplan: I came in to Fade with essentially zero knowledge of Yo La Tengo but left really liking what I heard. On first listen, it seemed to be little more than ultimately-forgettable indie-rock background music. Yet I kept coming back to it, particularly songs like “Ohm” and “Before We Run.” As an album, Fade just has something to it that keeps pulling me back in. Calm, low-key, awesome stuff.
Thanks as always to Dan Kaplan and Dan Lyons, who will be getting recognized when I make a contributors page at some point. Kaplan’s restarted his blog, thelistplanet.wordpress.com (where I have a special guest post today!). Lyons can be found at various sites, but here’s a link to his posts for Syracuse blog Troy Nunes Is An Absolute Magician – http://www.sbnation.com/users/Dan%20Lyons/blog.
Important note that I’ll put in bold – if anyone else is interested in writing a couple of sentences/a blurb on any week’s new releases, drop me a line either in the comments or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Next week’s tentative reviews include Long.Live.A$AP by A$AP Rocky, Wolf’s Law by The Joy Formidable, True North by Bad Religion and Beta Love by Ra Ra Riot. Also, Trapt has a new album, which could be hilarious fun.
Finally, my current ranking of 2013 albums, to be updated weekly:
1. Yo La Tengo – Fade (B-/C+)
2. Dropkick Murphys – Signed and Sealed in Blood (B-/C+)
3. Black Veil Brides – Wretched and Divine: The Story of the Wild Ones (C-/D+)
4. Hollywood Undead – Notes from the Underground (D-)
Dan Lyons (@Dan_Lyons76) is a contributing writer for “Kevin Reviews Things” and proud but occasionally traitorous native Nutmegger from Stamford, CT and a 2012 Syracuse University grad. He enjoys a wide range of sports, all kinds of non-Nickelback rock music, and of course, his friend Baxter here.
Dan Kaplan (@dkaps89) is a contributing writer for “Kevin Reviews Things” and a 2011 graduate of Syracuse University. A Reading, PA, native, he’s now based in Brooklyn and occupies his time, for the moment, as a public relations professional. The blog’s resident “metal guy” has recently rebooted his own blog, List Planet, which you can find at thelistplanet.wordpress.com.
Follow Kevin on Twitter @kevinnbrown.